Forwarding the Movement as an Outsider

I was asked to write this article/blog post over the summer for a fellow learner-centered practitioner, though I’ll admit I’m not really sure what happened with it; however, I was thinking about it today and figured I could at least post it on my own blog!

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I graduated in 2017 from a recently turned learner-centered environment where I was fortunate to be highly involved in the process of transforming the school, but unfortunately higher ed is not so learner-centered. That was one of the biggest shell shock moments for me about entering college: going from a normal day involving working with clients from the CDC, City of Sandy Springs, and Chick-Fil-A to name a few, to a normal day now becoming sitting in long lectures and taking multiple-choice tests that make up 80% of your grade. As a learner now out of the k-12 system and in a non-learner-centered environment, I sometimes find myself feeling like an outsider in the Education Transformation Movement; however, as time passes I have come to realize that there are ample ways to forward the movement even as an “outsider.”

Despite moving into a less learner-centered environment, I always knew that I wanted to stay involved with this movement to transform education. I didn’t want to go into education as a major though because I believe part of the problem with our current education system is that we’re still teaching new teachers how to teach in a traditional way. Therefore, I’m studying Business Administration with a concentration in Leading and Managing Human Capital. I believe that if we think of schools as an innovative business it will help with the paradigm shift. I hope to learn more about change theory, risk management, social entrepreneurship, 21st-century leadership, and more to then apply that knowledge to help consult with schools trying to transform to a more learner-centered model.

Apart from my studies, I believe any educator wanting to transform the education system has a responsibility to stay connected with the larger national conversations happening on this topic – myself included. Being in college, it is harder to find opportunities to create change in my personal learning environment, but through social media, conferences, and writing articles I can still help effect change in other learning environments around the country.

I continue to stay involved with the national community primarily through Twitter and Slack conversations, attending conferences, blogging almost daily, and being Editor-in-Chief of Trailblazers, a student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement. I believe as a young learner who graduated from a learner-centered environment, I, in particular, have a unique perspective that needs to be shared. A few years ago I stated in a blog post, “When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, ‘Where’s the evidence of this working?’ but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working.” – The Life of Pinya This quote has kind of served as my north star for the past few years. People want to know about the evidence, so I need to share my stories to prove just how much learner-centered education is bettering the lives of all kinds of students.

Since going to college, I have realized just how much more prepared I am for the world due to my k-12 experiences in a learner-centered environment. I have a deeper sense of self and can articulate my passions and goals in a comprehensive way. I have gotten feedback from professors about how impressed they were with my ability to send professional emails even as just a freshman. I have had the initiative to set up dozens of interviews with advisors to help me figure out my major. I sincerely believe I wouldn’t have had any of these important life skills if it wasn’t for my learner-centered high school; in my experience, traditional schools don’t spend a ton, if any, time on educating students about things like self-awareness, goal setting, professional communication, and taking initiative.

My life has been bettered immensely due to my participation in a learner-centered school and I hope one day that all students get the opportunity to learn under a more innovative model of education. I stay involved in the world of education for the future of those students – the ones who may not even know there are other options of schooling available. I’d love to see higher ed change their ways too, but for now I choose to focus my efforts on k-12 where I have the most background knowledge, even if I’m not in a k-12 environment. I hope other learners, of all ages, can come to realize that your environment doesn’t determine the level of participation you can have in the Education Transformation Movement. It’s always possible to effect change; start by sharing your story.

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The Gift of Feedback

I truly value people who can give good feedback. It doesn’t necessarily have to be positive feedback, but just people who can balance between praise and critique and make suggestions without sounding like a know-it-all. People who know how to both point out specifics and provide examples of new directions to go in, but can also give general overall feedback on the piece as a whole.

I had a conversation with my bestie tonight about this and we both agreed that knowing how to give feedback well is one of the best skills you can find in a teammate. Yet at the same time, teaching “how” to give feedback never seems to me emphasized enough in school. There are some people that are just horrible at giving feedback. There are two spectrums of the people you don’t want to give you feedback: the know-it-alls who sound like snobs that can only give feedback “obviously you should’ve…” feedback, and then the people who don’t know how to critique at all so they just say everything is great even when you know it isn’t.

Personally, I wish there was more teaching on giving feedback. I learned through experience in the Innovation Diploma (ID) but sometimes it would be nice to get more feedback on how we’re giving feedback. It’s one of those things I really miss about high school/ID- more frequent practice of giving and receiving feedback.

Also, especially in college but I suppose for some high schools too, I wish more teachers facilitated first drafts and peer review. Sometimes you need that nudge to meet new people in your classes and some people need more guidance on how to give feedback if they never had that learning opportunity when they were younger.

I happened to be partnered with someone today in my English class who I found to be a particularly helpful feedback giver. There was great balance in the type and style in which he gave feedback which I truly appreciated. It will now make my second draft much easier to write.

Decreasing Choking Under Pressure

I love when homework is actually really interesting!

We didn’t have psych class today because our teacher was out to due to religious reasons, so instead she had us watch two videos on our own and write an essay about what we found interesting and do some critical thinking about the two. I found one of the videos pretty annoying, and honestly still a bit annoyed that all of this work took almost three times as much time as the class normally would’ve; however, the second video I actually really enjoyed.

It was called “Power of the Human Brain” and some of the video I had already learned about before, like the concept of using a “memory palace” to better remember long random lists which is a technique mental athletes use. But I also learned some new stuff that really closely ties in with learning and memory and education practices in general which I found particularly interesting.

For example, there was a study done to see if we can train our brain to be less likely to “choke” under pressure. Turns out, the emotional part of our brain is right next to the working memory part. So when we get overly anxious or stressed, the emotional part of our brain can literally cloud up the working memory by overwhelming it with too many signals that take up brain power. Therefore, the study had half of a class take 10 minutes to reflect before taking a test about how they were feeling and get all there worries out, and the other half of the class just sat there. The half of the class who did the pre-writing ended up on average outperforming the control group by half a letter grade. The theory is that the kids who did the writing essentially “out loaded” their worries onto the paper and therefore, lessened the space they were taking up in the brain which allowed for the working memory to work more optimally.

Now I didn’t spend the time to look any deeper into this study or others about this topic after watching the video, but I still think the findings are pretty awesome- especially as a kid who is not the best test taker compared to what I feel my understanding of information is. I’m definitely going to try this pre-writing technique out and believe teachers should really try implementing this practice in classrooms as well. Getting learners to practice reflecting, creating a less stressed out environment, and having better performance result; sounds like a lot of wins for so little work.

Staying in Touch

I love reunions. Even if only a few people show, like what happened today with our Teck Trek Scotland reunion.

I can’t believe it’s been a little over a year since I backpacked through Scotland with part of my incoming freshman class. I still believe it was a great experience, that I’ll never probably do again. (I solidified the opinion of not being so much of an outdoors person while on this trip.)

I’m most grateful for the relationships we built on this trip. I’m still very close with several of my fellow Scotty Squad, and some I don’t get to see often but always happy when I do. We still keep up our group chat whenever we’re reminded of our adventures which is nice, but it was especially great to see some faces in person today at our Waffle House breakfast reunion.

I love reunions because I’m quite a nostalgic person – no surprise there considering its a good part of why I manage to keep this blog up somehow…  I like reminiscing and catching up, and after seeing some old friends today it reminded me of other people I want to do a better job at staying in touch with.

I’m only 20 minutes from home at school, so there are a lot of people I’m close with who I’m also physically fairly close to and yet don’t see nearly as often as I’d like to. Some of my best friends live down the street and yet I have no idea what they’ve been up to lately now that we don’t have classes together. (Which is odd in itself since we’ve had almost all of our classes together since 7th grade.)

Perhaps it’s time I make a better effort to stay in touch.

My Opinion on Online Classes

Online classes aren’t really a new thing, yet they seem to still get perceived as new which is odd to me. I officially got registered for the online version of a required CS class today and as I was walking with an upperclassman she asked me, “As a student with a passion for learner-centered education, I’m curious about your opinion on online classes.”

I guess this title is a bit of a misnomer because in actuality I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about online courses.

I use to very strongly be against them, but seeing as today I signed up for my 3rd ever online class, I realized that opinion clearly changed and now is more neutral.

I was against online classes because the depth of learning isn’t as powerful in an online class. I mean if you ask most students they’ll flat out say online courses are easier- that was at least a factor to my reasoning to register. Online classes may be interactive some, but the material is set and rigid and pretty surface level since there are no conversations where deeper questions can be posed and explored. The material is all given to you up front and you can finish as quickly as you would like/are able to; there is no “well the class seemed really interested on this topic so we pivoted the schedule to do a whole project unit where we came up with plans and prototypes and pitched to board members…”

You don’t sign up for an online course because of the content. I signed up for CS online course because the in-person course happened at a time I didn’t particularly like with the rest of my schedule. It meant I would have to rush from CS class across campus to Marta twice a week all semester and then uber to the gym to still be a bit late to coaching the practices I help with.

That’s really the big plus I see about online courses: time and location flexibility. That’s the reason I’ve now signed up for three different online classes since high school. It was always an issue of scheduling where I needed to take a class but didn’t have room in my busy schedule and the online option ended up being the perfect compromise.

So from the perspective of a student trying to get a credit out of the way and get a decent grade while doing other things, online classes are great. However, when I think about the quality of learning happening in most online classes, I find it to be sub-par.

It’s pretty easy to cut corners in online classes, and when you’re already not interested in the topic and just taking the course for credit sake, there’s little motivation to not want to just “get through it” as fast as possible.

Furthermore, I believe that a huge part of learning revolves around the social interactions and relationships built during the learning process. It’s really hard to successfully achieve those relationships in an online environment. Again, partially because there’s no real incentive to strive for that deeper level of learning. I consider myself to be an intrinsically motivated learner and a pretty good student, (yes, I believe those are different thing, but that is a different conversation), and even I don’t find myself caring to make the extra effort in an online course to really make it a remarkable learning experience; I just want the credit on my own time.

Obviously, this is all my own personal opinion, and some kids may, in fact, make that extra effort, though in my experience few do.

As I told the friend who asked me about my opinion, thus inspiring this post tonight, I believe that online courses are still a work in progress. I don’t have a strong opinion yet because I see the potential in them to be a great learning tool, though at this point I think they are just a great tool for the traditional system where learning has a more cut and dry vibe. The flexible time and space component to online courses is learner-centered in nature, though the context, course material, and assessment structure is still very much not.

Don’t Forget to be Awesome

Sometimes you have to remind people that they’re awesome. Furthermore, sometimes you have to remind people that they need to remind themselves that they’re awesome.

Today I made a girl yell out loud that she was awesome because who knows how the rest of her day was going but by the time she got to practice she was having some serious self-doubt going on. I don’t feel that self-doubt is something that just get’s better with age either because a similar situation came up with some Tech kids as we’ve begun our first week of school. There was a big conversation I more witnessed and listened than partook in literally after day 1 of school complete with yelling and tears that was essentially all about self-doubt with school, friends, and life in general.

It seems that mental health problems have started hitting kids younger and younger nowadays. I don’t know if the general pressures of life have really gotten that much more stressful or what it is, but I notice more and more kids of all ages doubting themselves daily. I know the feeling and admit it’s one thing to give advice and an entirely different thing to take even your own advice; there’s no simple fix so I’m not going to try to propose one at this point in time.

It’s just hard to see people constantly blaming themselves and not thinking they’re good enough. Since I’ve come to college it seems to just be a norm though, and now that I coach gymnastics more often, I’ve started noticing signs of self-doubt at even younger ages which is even harder to see.

I wish more was being done to combat this. I can’t help but feel the best place to make a difference would be in schools where kids spend the majority of their day-to-day lives. Yet the opposite seems to be happening. We’re always pushing kids to be perfect; to get a “perfect score” specifically. There’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness, but no matter how many teachers try to say “it’s okay to fail because we learn from our mistakes,” at the end of the day I never truly see this mindset in practice. I don’t think we ever will as long as we have grades, standardized tests, and college applications so heavily based on all of the numbers. How often do we just teach kids to love themselves the way they are and that striving for greatness is a personal mission to be the greatest “you” you can be for the world, not a competitive mission to be the best singular thing compared to everyone else?

The competitive nature that comes along with the numbers is inevitable and detrimental. Wheather intentional or not, kids end up comparing and competing in terms of grades. It always happens and it only makes it that much worse when someone slips up. It doesn’t feel good to be “beaten,” and this competitive nature, whether it means vying for valedictorian or messing around with friends about the little participation grades, until the foundational systematic approach to schooling is altered I don’t imagine mental health in society improving anytime soon.

Watch a 10-year-old beat herself up over forgetting two poses in a 3-minute long routine she learned in less than three hours and tell me that mental health isn’t an issue amongst young learners.

Not All About Winning

I don’t understand why high school sports are taken so seriously sometimes. Realistically most high school athletes won’t continue much further with whatever sport they’re playing. I understand and appreciate wanting to be good and wanting to win, but sometimes you just want to play to have fun and it seems like there isn’t room for that in high school.

I was at my sister’s volleyball team meeting today and it was flat out said, “At this level in high school, it’s all about winning.” My sister is JV and honestly not amazing nor does she care to be, but she wanted to play because she thinks the sport is fun, her friends are doing it, and she wants a consistent way to work out. However, every year she comes so close to quitting because she feels like it’s taken way too seriously and all of her time becomes dedicated to the sport in an overwhelming way.

My sister quit competing gymnastics going into her freshman year. She used to train 12+ hours a week so when she quit she knew she was going to need to find some other sport to keep her active. Yet it seems it’s kind of hard to start a new sport once you get to high school.

I’m sure my sister isn’t the only person who discovered that they’re ready to try something new in high school. Shouldn’t high school be all about trying new things while you still can? It kind of stinks that everything is so serious and competitive and “top level” that it becomes hard to just try out new sports and stay active for fun.

I constantly wonder why high school’s don’t have intramural teams (or at least mine didn’t). Colleges have intramural teams and, while I’ve never played on one, I love the concept: form a small team that maybe practices once a week and then compete against other teams in a recreational way for a few weeks, then find a new sport to try out. I think it’s great that colleges have this option, though I find with everything else going on in college, it still can be hard to actually find time to play on a team. In high school though, it seems like it could be a perfect medium for those people who just want to have fun being active.

Imagine if every six weeks or so there was a new intramural sport offered, maybe even during the offseason of the varsity sport so people could use it as a time to have fun before getting super competitive. Maybe there could even be odd sports offered like Galic football or ultimate frisbee. The games could even just be in-house scrimmage style, or maybe small teams form at the school so each small team finds one day to practice that works for those x number of kids, and then there is one day set aside for matches between the small teams. Like soccer games are normally 11v11 in high school, but you could also just play mini-games of 5v5 or 7v7 or whatever really, the point is to have fun being active not to try and get college scholarships or win big tournaments.

It would also be a great way for kids involved in the arts to also be able to play sports. That was a big problem for me because I played soccer since I was 3 and enjoy the sport a lot, but I also loved theater and there was really no good way for me to do both for school. I’m sure if there was just a once a week commitment it would be much easier to work around with my theater commitment.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like a lot of students could benefit from a more recreational, short-term, low commitment sports team at school.

I’ve been having this same thought for years now actually. After finishing writing this post I just found a post from February 2016 essentially about the same topic. Maybe one these days the idea will stick with someone because at this point I’ve excepted it isn’t my challenge to take on, but it’s still one I find coming up as I continue to have friends and family in similar situations to me with the high school sports debacle.

Something a Little Weird

Sometimes it can be really fun to intentionally do something really “weird” compared to normal society, but you have to own it with complete confidence.

To some extent, I feel like that’s kind of a trademark of me.

I’m the girl who wore a fuzzy hat to school every day of the year after it got a little chilly outside and long past when it got warm again. I’m the girl who would wear a cloak to school just for the joy of walking down the hallways more majestically. I’m the girl who takes a picture squatting on top of a stone water fountain every year because it’s an amusing Capon tradition that started when I was one. And I’m part of the family who spends one night each time we’re in Ohio dressing in our pyjamas to go out to an ice cream store.

Tonight was “Pyjama Michelle’s Night” and my siblings and my grandparents and I all put on our pjs and go out to the busiest ice cream shop in town, confusing lots of people along the way. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for at least seven years now and we always pull in thinking “Are we too old for this?” but then we walk out of the car with our heads high and just laugh our way in. We get all sorts of weird looks and compliments and questions and it’s really just great. My favorite thing is when people think it’s actually some legit thing that they were just out of the loop on.

I truly believe everyone should go out and do something a little “weird” every now and then because it’s a great way to practice getting out of your comfort zone and taking low scale risks; it helps to prepare for the harder, more uncomfortable risks that sometimes have to be taken.

It’s Plausible

My mom and I saw the movie “Ready Player One” today and while it was by no means the best movie ever, we both agreed it was pretty good. We had some laughs and some jumps and were forced to think a little which are all respectable things for a movie to make you feel.

If you haven’t heard of this movie, it is essentially a dystopian story about virtual reality. Imagine 2045 where the world is run down and piled high with trash and poverty and whole trailer parks stacked on top of each other. The quality of life is so poor that practically everyone spends most of their time in the virtual reality world of the Oasis where you can do anything and everything and life is like a game. However, when the game creator dies he sets out a challenge for one lucky winner to inherit his share of the company and control of the game, then all of a sudden this becomes a business endeavour. It’s a fight between big business and the people for who will take control of this central part of everyone’s life.

Like I said, the movie itself got pretty cheesy sometimes and wasn’t the most advanced plot development, but the concept of the movie was what was really intriguing. It’s a very plausible scenario when you think about it. With the rate virtual reality is being popularized and the rate in which we’re polluting the Earth, just how far-fetched is it to imagine a world where people are having their time consumed by “living” in a virtual world? It’s kind of scary how some of these dystopian stories become more and more realistic and possible futures every day.